Falling down and getting up again is one of the hallmarks of the Nondual Kabbalistic Healing community that is my home.
This morning I fell down as a leader, and my healer-colleagues caught me.
And this is how it works among the imperfect humans that we are.
I always, always want to be at my best when I facilitate a meeting.
Clear intention. Clear agenda. Clear (preferably flawless) communication. Definitely flawless documents that reach participants in time to prepare. Show up knowing what I want, ready to state it and also make plenty of room for others to state their views. Open to learning and to changing my mind. But still, as a leader, I expect myself to be able to confidently say: we are going in this direction!
Oh, and presence. Taking in what is going on, considering it with wisdom, and…well, you get the picture (aka fantasy) in play here.
Today’s reality: unrelated to any meeting anxiety, I ‘d been awake since 3:00 am before this 8:30 meeting. Still recuperating from a respiratory bug, with a muzzy head and bleary eyes. With an unstable internet connection that could (and did) drop me from the meeting at any moment. I wasn’t the only one. A mom’s cancer surgery. A newborn grandson. A dog’s death. Everyone had Life going on.
One issue on the agenda – creating a Master Calendar for projects, was a big departure for this all-volunteer group’s working style. I expected a range of resistances to this proposal. There was none. On the contrary, people saw the need and how it would help. Exhale.
It had taken me a week to drop into how to frame a second major issue. That involved our vision for the community that we serve, and how to bring it alive in the biennial gathering we are planning for next summer. I felt very clear that offering attendees different creative ways to explore the theme of the gathering – movement, mask-making, a community mural – was the way to go. But in the service of what intention, with what goal? I was alarmed to find that as the chair I was coming up empty. I felt the best I could offer was an empty form. Ugh.
So here’s what happened.
My energies were low, my mind not too sharp, my level of presence questionable. I simply could not run the meeting in whatever my usual style is. This left room for different conversations and inventiveness. Many dots were connected about how this could support that. Oh and of course the theme of the meeting could play out in this inspired way so it was really an integrated part of the whole. And oh this and that person have wonderful artistic specialties they might offer. In fact, that community resourcefulness is precisely what we want to harbor at the big gathering. Oh!
Lesson of the day: I was off my game, and this made room for fresh movement, new information, originality, heartfelt desires, initiative, skills, engagement. What a rich stew. An outcome that helped me get up, and left all of us uplifted, and in awe of one another.
I became useful in a different way when I fell down – off my own standards for myself. My colleagues picked me up and the whole committee enterprise too. Next time you feel off your game, consider you might be making room for something wholly new and brilliant to emerge. Including enlivened trust and intimacy in your group.
Those of you who have been drawn to this tribe of Good Enough human beings have told me that you appreciate the perspective of A Life of Practice with its focus on becoming not more perfect but more human. Over the past year you have responded especially to posts that offered open-hearted personal stories and models of how to engage with practice in daily moments both challenging and celebratory. I greatly appreciate your traveling with me, and your comments along the way.
The central prayer of Jewish worship is known as the Shma: Shma Yisroel HaShem Elokeinu Hashem Echad. I learned this prayer as a kid in Sunday school, where it was translated as: Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One.
Another and quite accurate translation is: Listen, you who wrestle with God, Reality is One Thing.
In NKH, we throw everything up against this statement. I mean, everything.
Whatever limitation or wart you want to leave out: include.
Whatever the shadow cast by the brilliant sunbeams of your latest inspiration: include.
Whatever you cannot bear turning away from in disgust: include. Include even your turning-away.
Because all those things we edit out or orphan: they haunt us.
They too want to come in out of the cold.
This is the radical practice of Oneness, the alchemical power of Kabbalistic Healing, and the heart of A Life of Practice.
This Oneness is not prescriptive: how human life should be in some idealized or actualized state, some Golden Age past or future.
This Oneness is descriptive: true to how life actually is, lived on the ground, in the mind and imagination, in the heart, in the soul.
This Indivisible Oneness is a fabric embellished by the moments of our One Life
Some of those moments feel like shining, precious gems, others like bird droppings. Yet all are adornments. One Life. NKH’s radical practice of Oneness invites me to make use of everything I am and experience, a potent compost that nourishes and sustains a life of practice.
Practice is our faithful and trustworthy ally on the journey – because we do still need to journey within the One.
The “journey” is then our gradual, erratic, persistent wandering, awakening to the Presence of God, to Reality, to our own glories and limitations, an integration of our split-off parts, an enlivening of the everything that is right here, right now.
Me and my practice – we keep moving with the movement of life.
And on we dance, awake and awakening, healed and healing.
How are you faring in your “journey”?
What have you accepted? How have you changed?
What have you brought in from the cold? What remains huddling outside?
Something about the quality and design elements of this sweater captured me the first time I saw it in the catalogue. The rich earth and sky colors. The embroidered, what? –ladders, tracks, pieces of fence one could climb through; a boundary, but a permeable one?
Each one of these has been a metaphor for practice, given me a different map for my spiritual journeying – a ladder that connects earth and heaven, a path through wilderness and confusion, a way of understanding the vital importance of boundaries that do not wall off life, but let Reality, let God, shine and move through.
For close to twenty years, I was devoted to climbing the ladder, and with poor understanding at that. I was just trying a “spiritual” way to escape from my body and the demands of material life, a life where I felt cut off and isolated even from myself.
I have been enlightened, enlivened, and comforted to find in the Jewish wisdom tradition a map of interpenetrating worlds and multiple paths of knowledge.
This map guides me as I come into relationship with life as it is showing up, with how I am showing up in life, with who I am. This map has brought home to me that relationship itself is the fundamental thread that weaves together all of life. Like a fine lambswool sweater.
From the viewpoint of this depiction of the Kabbalistic universes, even as we journey, we simultaneously live in the presence of all creation. We live in multiple and interpenetrating universes, states of consciousness or soul, often represented as concentric circles, each world surrounding and filling those within it. It is Reality itself, the Presence of God itself, that is the fabric of all.
At any given moment, however, I go through life splitting the world. I limit the amount of reality that I allow to a level of suffering – and joy – that I can bear. I selectively split off and selectively awake, living in one or two of these worlds only.
The “journey” is then our gradual, erratic, persistent wandering, awakening to the reality of the universes, to our own glories and limitations, a re-unification, an enlivening of the everything that is right here, right now.
This understanding fuels my patience to keep working on myself, while I also deeply claim who I am just as I am. To live a life that is not more perfect, but more human. To be willing to be, forever, a work in progress.
The world of doing…
The world of Doing (Hebrew: Assiyah) circumscribes a material world of objects that act upon one another, behaviors utterly without introspection. When split off from the other worlds, what we might call Doing-only, our relationships are black or white: no gray areas. People are objects, either with us or against us, friends or enemies. The body is an object, and we look for silver bullets to fix us. God is far away, at times absent, and our prayers range from the ritual and magical to supplication and bargaining across an otherwise unbridgeable gap.
Separateness is a hallmark of this world. Yet when transparent to the worlds that surround and fill it, our material, physical life is stable and dynamic, preciousness and beauty are everywhere, even in suffering, and we have a deep sense of being at home in the world.
The world of formation…
The world of Formation (Hebrew: Yetzirah) circumscribes a world of self-reflection and story-making, a quantum leap into a realm where the personal unconscious awakens. Our relationships shift as we begin to explore the motivation and intent of our own and others’ behaviors. Most of us spend the majority of our waking and dream life in this state.
This world takes its name from our devotion to “forming” and shaping meaning, understanding and insight out of what life brings us. We have broken out of the trance-like consciousness of Doing-only, and become seekers. The spiritual journey is born here. Personal story is crafted here.
Relationships are more nuanced – we find a single person may be friend, ally, enemy. We can disagree without going to war. Here we can begin to work through the knots of family history and personality. We may plumb what ails an organ of the body for its metaphoric value, and see how words as well as herbs and medicines can heal. Our prayers shift to encompass acceptance, gratitude, thanksgiving, guidance, and mystery. God may be a Friend and Companion.
This all sounds pretty good, right? Progress, freeing, much to celebrate. And many paths culminate here.
But this world when split off remains suffused with duality. In a world of Story-only, we live more responsibly and with growing freedom and skillful means. Yet our relationships remain captive to unceasing comparison, weighing every distinction as good or bad, as it affects our personal safety and well-being. Self judgment, and all of the varied ways we make ourselves larger or smaller than we are thrive in Story-only.
The world of creation…
The world of Creation (Hebrew: Briah) circumscribes a universe of spacious possibility, where we make another quantum leap, this time from the personal unconscious to the nondual and fully human where each person and object is simply itself and takes its place in the whole of reality, distinct and in relationship.
It is through persisting in our personal work in the Universe of Formation that we come into this Briatic relationship with the fullness of our own humanity. Honesty and kindness begin to shine through more and more. We become the size that we actually are, both awakened and still waking up to all that is present in our life.
Conflict does not disappear. But the heat of friction subsides. Cause and effect are understood as a single unified event. Here we pray with complete honesty, however we need to pray.
We can and do split this world off too. In Creation-only we leave behind the body, heart and psychology that make us truly human. We paper over our problems, dissociate from, or actively try to transcend the body, the “Lower Self,” and war. We seek a place of unchanging peace and harmony – precisely what I was after when I was climbing the spiritual ladder.
As we become more and more established in the nondual, in life as it is and as we are, the nature of effort changes. We are not so much seeking, ferreting out, making meaning. Rather we become willing creatures moving and in relationship with the never-ending changes that life brings. We don’t so much use as embody our skillful means. We arrive at right action not only because we have become more discerning of intellect and heart, but because our sense of self is now both personal and not.
The world of emanation…
The world of Emanation (Hebrew: Atzilut) circumscribes a world before there is a world we can even conceive of, a universe of undivided oneness that pre-exists separateness. This universe is essentially unknowable to us, yet is our source and foundation, a mystery that suffuses our material world, emotional and psychological being, and our most honest, kind and enlightened state.
The map that draws us home…
Each of us is delivered at birth into the center of these universes, a separate being wholly dependent on our caretakers, who both tend and fail us in their humanity.
The spiritual “journey” is a gradual, erratic, persistent wandering, awakening to the reality of the universes, to our own glories and limitations, a re-unification, an enlivening of the everything that is right here, right now.
I like to think that what sets us off on this journey – what accounts for the yearning, the wrestling, the ultimate willingness to engage and persist – is the Undivided Oneness that is right here, not yet fully known to me, tickling me and pulling me forward and back.
The map is vital to me not as a shiny or magical key, but because it draws me to notice what is here, and just that noticing brings me into relationship with my life. Hold too tightly to the map, and I risk thinking I can stop the movement of life. So I hold it lightly, and the map brings me more deeply into the territory of who I am, and how life is.
I know this about myself: I treasure this map. Especially for those times when I lose heart. Without help, I may not even be able to locate myself – but I trust the map, I trust Reality. And that Reality teaches me there is no failure, that my inherent optimism about our capacity for healing and wholeness is not a delusion, and that even as I am convinced I am confused and lost, that I am held and safe in the mystery.
An invitation to reflect, draw or journal…
Wherever you are on your journey, what if you trusted that you are being pulled toward the center of your own existence, your home, the heart-intelligence of Reality, the Indwelling Presence of God?
What if you trusted that coming into relationship with your very human self, warts and all, is not an obstacle, but the very vehicle to take you home?
How would that change your relationship to yourself? to others? to God? to your journeying?
Is there anything we want more than to know ourselves and to be comfortable in our own skin? in our own life? to be ourselves? to re-member our wholeness?
Is there anything more difficult than to see ourselves as we are, to see life as it is, to persevere in this exhilarating and terrifying effort?
Most of us have a strong preference, even a habit, of relying on honesty, or falling back on kindness on our healing and awakening journey. But unless we draw on both, we are likely to get bogged down, off track, or lose heart altogether, running from angry ghosts or chasing after angels.
Honesty without kindness is brutal.
We see our faults and limitations, act as judge and jury. We mete out penalties. Or we simply turn ourselves over to a taskmaster whose job it is to bring us up to snuff, into conformity with some idealized version of ourselves. We cut ourselves no slack. All while knowing we wouldn’t treat our friends this way.
Kindness without honesty leaves us complacent.
We let ourselves off the hook, unable or unwilling to see the trail of unhappiness our behaviors leave behind us. We strand ourselves in fantasy.
The truth of any situation is that we are mixed and mixed up, imperfect human beings.
Honesty roots us deeply into reality. Kindness waters the roots.
As we take the help of both honesty and kindness, we can cease shrinking away, turn directly into our life as it is, look directly into the mirror and see ourselves as the wholeness we already are. This is the heart of healing and awakening. This is the heart of ALife of Practice.
by Sara Eisenberg
no upraised arm,
no torch aloft,
no golden door,
no frank welcome.
just me standing guard,
close by the only sign of vacancy:
a tent slit flapping in the night wind.
the timid and the raging,
creatures graceful, one-eyed, or many-toed:
I might, from grudge or curiosity,
inquire into each one’s country
and allow in a likeness.
when I can bear to name
grant it ground
that is not for rent, for sale, for land-grab;
permit it entry without
bath, deodorant, change of clothing;
give up my ragged belongings
and vain efforts to secure them;
then each dark distinction that longs to return
is belonging itself.
I meet the new year with irresolution, without commitment to an idealized version of my life that involves doing (e.g. eating more greens, daily exercise) or being (e.g. more kind, less frantic).Continue reading